Back from the not so chilly north (more of that on Friday) with a novel I snapped up as soon as I spotted it on NetGalley. I’ve been a fan of Daniela Krien’s understated writing since I read Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything back in 2015. Not such a lengthy gap between Love in Five Acts, one of my books of 2021, and The Fire which explores a long marriage at a point of crisis over three summer weeks spent housesitting in the countryside.
The contents of these drawers were not meant to be seen by anyone. She feels like at thief, but at the same time like someone who’s had property withheld from them.
Rahel and Peter’s marriage has been under strain since a student put Peter at the centre of a social media fracas when he failed to address them as non-binary. The couple had planned a Bavarian hiking holiday but the house Rahel had painstakingly researched has burnt down. When Ruth asks her to housesit while her husband Viktor is recuperating from a stroke, Rahel is reluctant but Ruth is her late mother’s best friend. She and Viktor were the only constants of Rahel and her sister’s rackety childhood. They dutifully pack up the car, Peter more willing than Rahel, driving the three hours to Ruth and Viktor’s house where they choose separate bedrooms, she reluctantly, he happily. Over the next few weeks they fall into a routine: Peter cares for Ruth and Viktor’s many animals, taking more pleasure in their company than he appears to in Rahel’s; Rahel gardens, reflecting on her marriage, the young people she sees in therapy and her daughter whose relationship appears to be in trouble just as her own is. When Rahel comes across drawings of herself and her mother in Viktor’s studio, a question which has long been troubling her resurfaces.
Comfortable times produce weak people, she thinks, without excepting herself.
Krien’s novella explores themes of love, marriage and family against a backdrop of identity. Peter’s crisis has been prompted by his handling of gender identity but growing up in the GDR, he and Rahel faced other identity issues, part of the generation that saw the fall of the Wall and reunification. Rahel has long been haunted by the question of her paternity, her patience worn thin by the young people she sees in her psychology practice whose problems seem almost trivial to her, brought about by overindulgent parents. As the weeks wear on, Rahel and Peter come to a rapprochement that acknowledges both their differences and their need for each other. Nothing much happens in this novella which lays bare our need to know who we are and our interconnectedness with those with whom we share our lives but by the end of the three weeks it spans much will have been resolved. All three of the novels I’ve read by Krien have been characterised by a quietly perceptive understanding of human nature and relationships, each of them expertly translated by Jamie Bulloch. So pleased that MacLehose Press has chosen the same cover designer for The Fire as they did for Love in Five Acts: both suit their respective novels perfectly.
MacLehose Press: London 9781529421385 192 pages Hardback (Read via NetGalley)